Food Safety for the Holidays
The holidays are almost upon us. It’s a time for families and friends to gather and share delicious food. Sometimes, food preparation mistakes can cause foodborne illness. During this holiday season, the Pomperaug Health District would like to offer some tips on preventing foodborne illness at family gatherings.
The Health District offers the following suggestions for safe food preparation:
• Start with the basics: remember to wash hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food to prevent the introduction of bacteria.
• Persons who have been ill with gastrointestinal symptoms should not prepare foods for others until at least three days after symptoms have gone away.
• Have a plan for how you will manage to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Consider your refrigeration, freezer and oven space when planning your holiday dinner.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. • Refrigerate fresh, ready-to-cook turkey immediately. Make sure that any juices from the raw turkey cannot drip onto other foods in the refrigerator. Remember that rinsing the raw turkey may cause splash that contaminates the sink and surrounding area.
• Frozen turkeys should never be thawed at room temperature. Keep frozen turkeys in the original plastic covering while thawing. The safest way to thaw your bird is in the refrigerator. Set the turkey on a tray to catch any liquids and place in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. A 15-pound turkey will take about 3 days to thaw.
• Wash hands and food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops, sink) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
• Never partially cook a turkey one day and complete it the following day. The turkey may not be heated enough to kill bacteria but may instead have just the right warmth to grow harmful bacteria.
• Cook the turkey thoroughly. Thorough cooking ensures that any bacteria has been destroyed. Use a meat thermometer to be sure that the turkey has reached at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Test the temperature in thickest part of the breast.
• It is safer to cook the stuffing separately from the turkey. If the stuffing will be cooked inside the turkey, stuff it just before cooking. Put the stuffing into the turkey cavity lightly – do not pack- to allow heat to penetrate more quickly. The stuffing must be cooked to at least 165 degrees – be sure to take check the temperature with a thermometer. Remove all stuffing from the turkey immediately after roasting. If the stuffing is prepared ahead of time, refrigerate it separate from the turkey.
• Cool hot leftovers quickly to keep foods safe. All foods should be refrigerated promptly to prevent bacteria from growing. Store foods in shallow containers and make sure the refrigerator is not over packed. There should be plenty of air circulation around the containers. Immediately after dinner, remove the turkey meat from the bones and divide it into smaller portions in shallow containers and place in the refrigerator to cool rapidly. Refrigerate any other cooked foods as well; since cooked vegetables, pasta, and rice can also harbor bacteria growth if left out too long. Throw away any food that has been allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
• Eggnog is a popular holiday drink. However, homemade eggnog is often made with raw eggs, which may contain salmonella. A safer alternative would be to use pasteurized eggs or purchase pasteurized eggnog in the grocery dairy case. Be sure to keep it cold at home.
• Cookie dough and cake batters also contain raw eggs. Resist the urge to take a little taste.
• Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing and other foods within 3 to 4 days. Use gravy within 1 to 2 days. Any leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees.
For more information on food safety visit foodsafety.gov and the FDA website